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Tenn. police statewide get new breath testers

By Candice Combs, Staff Writer

Tennessee authorities are giving police departments statewide new breath alcohol testers to help detect impaired drivers.

“Every county is guaranteed to get one,” said Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation Governor’'s Highway Safety Office this month awarded the TBI $1.5 million to buy 217 intoximeters, according Ms. Johnson. Each device costs $7,000, she said.

Intoximeters can store up to 700 exams at a time, which will improve statewide record keeping, Ms. Johnson said. State and local officials can track the dates and locations of all drunken driving stops with the age of the drivers involved, she said.

“We’'ll be able to identify all the drunk-driving hot spots,” Ms. Johnson said.

In 2003 in Tennessee, 1,091 people died in traffic crashes, according to new statistics from the Tennessee Department of Safety. Of those, 24.6 percent were alcohol-related.

Early Friday morning, another person was added to that list, according to Chief Eddie Phillips, director of public safety in East Ridge. At 2:45 a.m., officers investigated the death of a woman ejected from a minivan after it crossed three lanes of traffic on Interstate 75 and struck a light pole.

Investigators charged the driver, Jeni Rebecca Beavers, 33, with drunken driving, he said. The Fort Oglethorpe woman was released from the Hamilton County Jail on a $500 bond.

In the past, police departments and sheriffs’’ offices have paid for alcohol testers from their own budgets, according to TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “This will give the TBI a chance to help local law enforcement who might not normally be able to afford this kind of equipment,” he said.

So far, 52 of the testing instruments have been distributed, according to Chuck Taylor, director of TDOT’'s Governor’'s Highway Safety Office. Local authorities should get their devices within a few weeks.